Up to 20 Jordanian F-16 fighter jets carried out airstrikes against ISIS in Syria Thursday, then flew over the hometown of the pilot burned to death by militants – a coordinated and public show of defiance in response to the atrocity.
King Abdullah consoled the family of Mouath al-Kasasbeh as the planes screamed overhead.
U.S. officials said Thursday’s targets would normally have been attacked by a variety of aircraft in the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, but the operation was “handed over” to the Jordanians in deference to the pilot’s horrific killing.
“This was one of the usual pre-planned, highly-coordinated airstrike operations,” according to one senior official, “handed today to the Jordanians.”
King Adbullah has vowed that the death of al-Kasasbeh, which has stirred nationalist fervor across the country, would bring severe retaliation on ISIS.
ISIS on Tuesday released a video showing the pilot, who was captured in December, being burned alive in a cage.
Meahwhile, sources told NBC News late Thursday that the Jordanian government is investigating the possibility that the al-Kasasbeh ejected after being shot down by his own wingman. U.S. officials referred all questions to the Jordanians, who said that they have no ability to inspect the wreckage since it is in ISIS territory — and that the bottom line is that their pilot was tortured and burned alive by terrorists.
— Jim Miklaszewski, Andrea Mitchell and Alastair Jamieson
Reuters contributed to this report.